Tag Archives: Bruce Stewart

Delight in the Details; One Photo – Many Stories

The winter of 1905 was a long one for the Island. The ships of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company, faced with ice forming in the Strait, ceased crossing and were laid up on 12 December 1904. They would not begin to run again until 24 April 1905. Their cross-strait duties were taken over by the Dominion Government Steamers; the Stanley and the Minto, and crossings soon shifted from Charlottetown to Summerside and Georgetown although it was not long before the ice blocked the harbour of Summerside as well.  Government steamers without ice protection such as the survey vessels working on mapping the coastline of Newfoundland had tied up even before the Steam Navigation Company boats and their crews were discharged for the season.

The photo above, taken sometime in 1905, shows the wharves as completely ice-locked.  The unknown photographer is standing in the track of a horse and sleigh which has crossed from the Southport shore. In close-up bushing can be seen on the ice marking the safe routes which began at  the foot of Great George Street extended up the West River and across the harbour.

In this detail you can see the Plant Line terminal building with its characteristic truncated gables and moored alongside the Plant Line Wharf are the three-masted Royal Navy survey ship Ellinor and ahead of her the Canadian Government Steamship Gulnare. In winter ships were not tied tightly to the wharves to allow ice to form around them and ride up and down with the tide. What appears to be a canvas cover has been erected over the decks of the Ellinor to protect them from the snow. Ships boats and other removable equipment have been moved from the ships to indoor storage.   The scene is overseen by St. Dunstan’s Cathedral and the Christian Brothers School at the head of Great George Street. If you look closely you can see the spruce poles marking the bushed route across the ice.

Moored across the end of the Steam Navigation Company wharf is the S.S. Princess. Behind her are the shops and warehouses of the Bruce Stewart and Company foundry and factory. There appears to be a major overhaul of the Princess underway. The funnel has been removed from the ship and a derrick is in place over the boiler and engine room space. Annual re-fitting of steamers was a mainstay of the Bruce Stewart business.  Above the Princess the five-story tower of the Victoria Hotel at the corner of Great George and Water streets, and the spires of the Presbyterian and Anglican churches can be seen.

The easternmost section of the photo shows the area between the Steam Navigation wharf and the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  In front of the bow of the Princess, the wooden City of London and the Steam Navigation Company’s flagship, the S.S. Northumberland, are lying in the basin between the two wharves.  The funnel of the Northumberland has been topped with a large cone to keep snow from filling the funnel and causing rust in the engine area. The two masts of a schooner show that another vessel is frozen in just ahead of the City of London. The huge roof of the Methodist Church (now Trinity United) looms over smaller buildings. Just visible to the right is the cupola of the roundhouse of the Prince Edward Island Railway at the south-east corner of Prince Street and Water Street.

Owing to the quality of the glass-plate negatives used to take photographs at the turn of the twentieth century and before, details can be found buried in the background of many period pictures.  While the overall scene and the beauty of the composition can be seen from a distance the real stories often require a magnifying glass.

Steampower on the Charlottetown Waterfront

The hallmark of the industrial revolution was the application of steam power to industrial activities. Within a few decades steam had moved from being used to pump out mines to powering ships and even railways. By the mid-1830s steamships were regular visitors to Charlottetown. In nearby Pictou there was talk of steam power for the tramways connecting the mines of the General Mining Association and the harbour.

Gainsford House, Water Street. Photo by Natalie Munn, City of Charlottetown

Steam also came to Charlottetown although it turned out to be a bit of a false start. John Gainsford was a successful grocer, merchant and brickmaker who owned one of the water lots on the south-west corner of Water and Great George Streets where his brick house still stands. In the summer of 1836 he imported two five-horsepower steam engines into the colony and later that year helped organize the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown.

The organizers recognized that while the colony had excellent timber resources and the developing farms were able to supply grain for home consumption and export the small water mills near the town at Bird Island Creek and Ellen’s Creek were ill-equipped to meet the needs. Gainsford had the steam engines and an ideal place on the Charlottetown waterfront where grain and timber could be brought across the water from farm and forest. What he apparently did not have was the additional capital to build the mill and extend the wharf.

Wharf area at the foot of Great George Street. Although drawn 20 years after the building of the Stream Mill Wharf a building which may be the mill is shown on the wharf .

He was successful in convincing others in the colony of the opportunity and he and his partners turned to a new way of doing business – the joint stock company.  This had never been used before on Prince Edward Island.  The capital for the company was split into shares and the investors could purchase more than one share.  Furthermore under the terms of the legislation creating the company the liability of the shareholders could be limited to what they had actually invested rather than exposing their other assets as was the case with a simple partnership.

Gainsford put his engines and property on the table as his share and he received 46 of the 151 shares. All of the other shareholders had to put up actual funds – £10 for each share.  To make it easier the shares could be paid on installments as the funds were needed. Using what turned out to be somewhat optimistic revenue and cost figures it was calculated that in the first year of operation  there would be a 40% return.  Shares were purchased by many of the leading merchants of the town.  In the 1837 session of the Legislature a bill creating the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown was passed and things began to move quickly. The existing wharf on the water lot was extended so that it ran about 170 feet along the waterfront and about 80 feet from the shore giving 6 feet of water at the face of the wharf at high tide.  A tender was awarded for a building about 45 feet square sited on the wharf to house the engines, the saws and the grinding stones for the grist mill.  A well was dug and pipes laid to supply the fresh water necessary for the steam engines. Gainsford was hired as superintendent and engineer.

Site of the Steam Mill wharf at the west side of Great George Street. The building to the west of the vessel may be the original steam mill structure.

Then things began to slow down. Costs had been higher than expected for the land and buildings. The share payments from shareholders started to taper off and the whole project was taking more time than anticipated.  Shareholders wanted the mill put into immediate operation so that revenues would start to flow. Instead late in 1837 they were presented with accounts that showed there was a deficit of over £300 and there remained at least £60 more to be spent before the mill was operable. Creditors began to press and suppliers and contractors had not been paid.  The mill seems to have sat unfinished through 1838 and the shareholders would wait no longer. Undercapitalized and with only a distant hope of profit the company could not continue.

In the Steam Mill Act there was a clause inserted to limit losses. Whenever the accounts showed that one-third of the capital had been lost or when two thirds of the shareholders required then the venture would be wound up. In September 1838 the mill and property were offered for sale, initially as a going concern and failing that to be auctioned.

The last meeting of the company was held a year later for the final approval of the accounts. The largest creditor was shipbuilder James Peake who was still owed more than £140. The contractors Smith & Wright were out more than £90.  Gainsford lost his steam engines and his water lot but apparently no additional money.  It appears that James Peake ended up with the Steam Mill wharf which became part of his large landholding on the Charlottetown waterfront.  As other wharves were built and extended to the channel the Steam Mill wharf remained a stubby protrusion barely leaving the shoreline but it was used for shipbuilding.  In 1843 it was the site of the British North American Circus. It is not known if Peake finished the mill and put it into operation but within a few years there were steam engines in operation elsewhere in the Town.  In the 1840s both the Scantlebury carriage factory on Kent Street and Coles Brewery were advertising that they were powered by steam.

The foot of Great George street remained for years as the industrial centre of the waterfront. It was the site of a number of sash and door factories and most recently as the MacDonald Rowe woodworking company. Nearby was the Bruce Stewart factory and foundry.  Although some of the buildings in the area have been turned to  touristic uses other traces of the industrial heritage of the waterfront have almost all disappeared.

Note:  An extended research paper on the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown has been posted on the detailed research documents page of this site found here.


The Southport Marine Slip: Infrastructure that never happened

One of the 1935 aerial photos of the Hillsborough River at Charlottetown shows a fascinating image.  The docks of Charlottetown are shown and a vessel, probably warship, is moored in mid stream. On the Southport side a little village is seen on the road leading to the site of the ferry wharf which had not been in use since the building of the bridge. The Langley shore is devoid of the summer cottages which would appear after the war.  From the height of the plane the channel can be clearly seen, the shallows delineated sharply by a change in the colour of the water.  There is a dredged channel leading to the Southport ferry wharf and the dredges have clearly been at work on the Charlottetown side.

But there is an anomaly in the photo. Just to the east of the ferry wharf another dredged channel can be seen which simply ends at the shore. This is all that remains of a scheme to bring industry and marine security to the Island – a scheme that had not one but several incarnations.

Detail from 1935 aerial photo of Charlottetown Harbour. The huillsborough Bridge can be seen at the top right and the ferry wharf is near the middle.

Detail from 1935 aerial photo of Charlottetown Harbour. The Hillsborough Bridge can be seen at the top right and the ferry wharf is near the middle. The light line running just east of the Ferry wharf is a flaw in the print.

Since beginning of steam communication a regular problem for the Island vessels was the necessity of periodic visits to a dry dock or haul-out slip for hull repairs and maintenance. While some work could be done by beaching ships at high tide but this was not an effective solution. So ships would have to take time off their routes each year for trips to dry-docks and slipways in Pictou, Sydney  or Halifax or even Quebec, leaving the Island with temporary back-up vessels, or no vessels at all. When there were a number of ships, as in the case of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company’s summer ships such as the Northumberland or Empress or the Dominion government’s Stanley, Minto and Earl Grey it was less of a problem. However with the announcement that a single vessel, the car-ferry Prince Edward Island, would replace all of the other ships the problem became acute.  When the Prince Edward Island went to dry dock the Island held its collective breath in hopes that the S.S. Scotia would be able to fill in.

Location plan for Marine Slip. Public Archives and Records )Office

Location plan for Marine Slip. Public Archives and Records Office

Even before the establishment of the Borden ferry service Charlottetown felt aggrieved. There were 170 steam and sail vessels registered in Charlottetown before the Great War and few facilities for repair. The Board of Trade passed a motion in the fall of 1912 calling for investigation of a marine slip for Charlottetown and at the beginning of the next year a study was announced. However, it must have come as a surprise that when the plan passed through the Dominion Privy Council Office it was for funds for the purchase of land on the other side of the harbour. W.P. Mutch who owned much of the Southport shoreline (and was perhaps a supporter of the Conservative government) was to get $300 per acre for the needed land and in December 1913 tenders were called for dredging at the site and removal of 130,000 yards of material.  The privately owned dredge Edmond Hall began the work of clearing a channel to a depth of 20 feet linking the water of the river to the shore facility. The work continued through 1915 and into 1916 and the dredging part of the project was completed before the end of the war.


Detail from the elevation for the Southport Marine Slip. Public Archives and Records Office

The proposal called for a 5,000 ton marine slip whose main client was clear from the blueprints prepared in 1915. Although these prints deal primarily with measurements and depths, an elevation clearly shows the unmistakable profile of the Island’s new ferry the S.S. Prince Edward Island on the cradle. However, the scheme fell prey to the war effort and no additional funds were voted. In 1917, J.O. Hyndman, who had been a major supporter of the initiative received word from one of the Island MPs that “owing to the high cost of steel, tenders will not be called.” After the war it was clear that the number of vessels which might use the facility was sharply reduced and the land-side construction was not proceeded with.

Detail of vessel cradle Southport Marine Slip. Public Archives and Records Office.

Detail of vessel cradle Southport Marine Slip. Public Archives and Records Office.

In spite of occasional interest from the Board of Trade the matter lay dormant until 1937 when the plan was dusted off as a possible employment and infrastructure initiative to counter the effects of the depression. The head of  Bruce Stewart and Company noted the loss of employment opportunity through not having dry dock facilities but it was clear that the thousands of dollars of repair work going to mainland marine slips was of primary interest to the company. However, at the time there were too many other labour intensive competing projects to make the investment in a marine slip a priority.

With the outbreak of the Second World War the issue of ship repair capacity again became timely. Bruce Stewart and Company had a number of defence contracts but were not able to take on major underwater work owing to the lack of a slipway. In 1942 the Maritime Board of Trade endorsed a motion calling for action on the matter. The loss of the car-ferry Charlottetown on its way to dry-dock in Halifax provided one more reason for a local facility as proponents argued that the ship would not have been lost if it was dry-docked in Charlottetown.

Guardian 3 December 1947

Guardian 3 December 1947

With post-war reconstruction another campaign was mounted in favour of the project. The Dominion government offered to transfer surplus equipment from either Shelburne N.S. or Bay Bulls Newfoundland to Charlottetown but the $100,000 cost of moving and erecting the material would have to be carried by the province which quickly backed away from support.  In 1947 the federal Progressive Conservatives under John Bracken included the Marine Slip along with the Brighton Bridge and a Grain Elevator as promises to the electorate. The Tories were not successful in the next election and none of the projects on their list were picked up by the new Prime Minister, Louis St. Laurent. In fact all three remain unfulfilled.

The last hurrah for the marine slip was in 1953 when the employees of Bruce Stewart and Company called a public meeting in Charlottetown on the marine slip. By this time the Southport site had been discarded in favour of land near the railway round house (and not far from the Bruce Stewart plant) and the size had been scaled back from 5,000 tons to 1,200 tons. The project was no longer about the car-ferries which had grown too large to be considered as customers but about smaller commercial, fishing and pleasure craft.  The more modest proposal still failed to attract Ottawa interest and the matter finally died.

When the air photos for 1958 are examined there is still a faint outline of the dredged channel, more than 40 years after the project was begun and abandoned.  The federal government held on to the land in Southport until at least the late 1950s and it is now a neighbourhood of shore front homes with a view of Charlottetown instead of an industrial site.  Today the dredged channel appears to be completely silted up and not a single trace remains of the Southport Marine Slip.